Forensic tests shake train blaze theories

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 July, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 July, 2002, 12:00am

The mystery over the cause of the train fire at Godhra that triggered massive violence and bloodshed in Gujarat has deepened. Forensic experts say it is unlikely a mob outside the train could have thrown enough flammable liquid into the affected compartment to start the fire.

The train was carrying Hindu pilgrims on their way home to Gujarat on February 27 when a Muslim mob gathered just outside Godhra station, where the train had earlier stopped. Witness accounts and police reports suggested the crowd had thrown fuel into a compartment, torching it and killing 59 passengers, including women and children. The tragedy sparked revenge riots by Hindu mobs that lasted weeks and left more than 1,000 Muslims dead and thousands homeless.

A report in Week magazine says that tests conducted by forensic experts in Gujarat show that about 60 litres of a flammable substance must have been poured into the compartment before it was set on fire. In order to establish how this might have happened, investigators studied the pattern of burns and re-enacted the incident by standing outside the train and throwing 60 litres of water into a compartment using what the crowd was believed to have used, buckets and cans.

What they found is that the compartment windows open more than two metres above ground level and that, standing a few metres away, it was impossible to get more than a tiny amount of liquid inside the compartment; it all spilled onto the tracks. Nor were there any burn marks below the level of the windows, which there would have been had the fire started on the tracks. They conclude that the kerosene or petrol used in the attack must have been poured inside the train.

They also contradict the belief that the passengers had locked all the doors and windows from the inside to stop the mob getting on board, saying checks show three doors of the compartment were open at the time.

So far, though, investigators have been unable to shed any light on what happened on the platform during the five-minute stop before the train left Godhra station. Reports had spoken of an altercation between those on the train and Muslim vendors on the platform.